Introducing: The New Save Ontario Shipwrecks Site (SOS)

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History of SOS

During the late 1970’s, two far sighted individuals, Rick Jackson and Gain Wong, began to realize that the most effective means of putting an end to wreck stripping in Ontario would be to educate and involve divers in conservation projects. They also recognized the need for an organization dedicated to preserving Ontario’s marine heritage. In February of 1981, Save Ontario Shipwrecks (SOS) was incorporated with Rick Jackson, Andrew Garay and Gain Wong as the first directors.

In the beginning, SOS was centred in Toronto. The first Chapters were Toronto, Niagara, Peterborough and Ottawa. In 1985, SOS Quinte was formed primarily to continue work on the Annie Falconer. This project, the wreck of a late eighteen hundreds schooner near Picton (Pt. Traverse) was the first to involve amateur divers and professionals and stands today as an example of the quality effort that can be achieved by the dive community. Also in 1984 we saw the formation of SOS Ottawa Valley, Sault Ste Marie, Superior, London and Sudbury, and Oshawa came on board in 1985, followed by Ohio in 1986. SOS Ohio consisted of a group of divers working on an Ontario wreck in Fathom Five Park, and assisted the State of Ohio in organizing their own marine heritage groups. 1986 saw the formation of Chapters in Windsor, Ingleside (which was closely affiliated with the Lost Villages Historical Society) and Thunder Bay.

In 1986, SOS was awarded a Core Funding grant by the Ministry of Culture. This in turn forced SOS to develop a more structured fiscal operating system, and reorganized to manage our affairs in a more professional manner. In 1986, we finally evolved to the position where we had a definite Board of Directors, with Officers and an Executive Committee to manage the day to day affairs of the corporation.

In 2003 SOS embarked on a provincial wide campaign to provide mooring buoys to SOS chapters and affiliated organizations like the NDA, POW and ErieQuest. To date, SOS has purchased over 80 buoys for initial deployment and maintenance purposes for this program.

The Purpose of SOS

To further public knowledge and appreciation of Ontario’s marine heritage by such means as may be expedient and, in particular, but without limiting the foregoing:

  • By assisting museums and public archives in acquiring information and displaying artefacts pertaining to Ontario maritime history;
  • By undertaking public education projects in furtherance of the objectives of the Corporation;
  • By surveying, documenting and encouraging the preservation of shipwrecks in Ontario’s lakes and rivers as a resource of historical and recreational value to the public in the Province and Canada.

The Role of SOS

Save Ontario Shipwrecks is a not-for-profit organization, dedicated to Marine Heritage Conservation. In order to carry out this purpose, four long term goals have been set out:

  • To stop the destruction of marine heritage sites;
  • To identify, evaluate and monitor marine heritage sites;
  • To conduct projects which contribute to the knowledge and understanding of Ontario’s maritime history; and
  • To provide the diving community and the general public with the opportunity to learn and understand more about Ontario’s maritime history, and the value of our marine heritage resource.

More Information on SOS


Activities related to the study of Ontario’s marine heritage include historical and archival research, oral histories, side scan surveys and underwater archaeological investigations. Through chapter sponsored projects, such as plaques, surveys, buoys and internationally recognized diver training through the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS), we not only help protect our dive sites, but spread the important word to many others. SOS believes in in-situ preservation of artifacts (i.e., leaving them where found) for others to see any time as opposed to expensive preservation and then being hidden from he public in museum collection storage facilities.

Preservation activities

Preservation activities undertaken by SOS members include a mooring program which seeks to minimize anchor damage on sites which are regularly being visited by sport divers. Along with the mooring program, site monitoring and documentation activities help to record and preserve marine heritage sites. Presentations to scuba clubs and training courses highlight the need for all divers to use shipwreck sites responsibly – that is, to minimize the negative impact of their visit to these fragile underwater museums.

Marine Heritage Promotion

We promote an appreciation of Ontario’s rich marine heritage through a number of initiatives. SOS members regularly make presentations to scuba training courses, public groups and dive clubs. We design, produce and bring displays about marine heritage to underwater trade shows and conferences. We seek to work very closely with the diving tourism industry to ensure that the rapidly growing heritage tourism initiatives are undertaken responsibly, from the standpoint of site preservation.

Lobbying Efforts

Ontario enjoys one of the finest marine heritage resources of any jurisdiction on the planet, and SOS lobbies all levels of government with a view to developing resource management initiatives which strike an appropriate balance amongst the competing interests of study, preservation and use.

Membership in SOS is open to all persons and organizations with an interest in marine heritage, imposes a duty to act in a responsible manner towards submerged cultural resources and to abide by our mission and ethics. Active participation in our programs can provide an extremely rewarding and satisfying experience for this indeed is an area where an individual can make a very significant and lasting contribution to a worthwhile cause which benefits society as a whole.

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About Author

Kathy is the owner of Kirk Scuba Gear, a passionate Scuba Diver, Ocean Advocate and Managing Editor of The Scuba News Canada

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